August 10, 2012

All a matter of perspective

“I’m the head swim instructor,” announced the impossibly muscular college student in the red bathing suit. “I just want to let you know that if there’s thunder any day, we have to be out of the water for twenty minutes.”

“Thirty,” put in one of her posse of tanned girls in ponytails.

“Right. Thirty. Also, during lessons, we have a rule that parents stay away from the edge of the pool.”

I didn’t understand this rule. Were they afraid parents would fall in? Dangle their feet in the water? What did they think would happen if they went near the edge of the pool?

That was on Monday, when I was fresh and naive. Most of Lilah’s four-year-old swim class that first day was spent out of the water, due to several anxious mothers little ones.

On Tuesday, however, they made it into the pool from the start and I learned the reason for The Rule. A swarm of parents moved to the edge of the pool. In a class of ten kids, there were four parents who hovered over the lesson pretty much the whole 35 minutes. One of them helpfully offered her four-year-old instruction the entire time, saying stuff like: “Kick with a straight leg like this.”

After the lesson was over, I went over to Athletic Head Swim Teacher Girlwoman. “Aren’t the parents supposed to stay away from the pool?”

“Well, yes.”

“Because it was really hard for the teachers to actually teach the kids with the gaggle of parents at the edge. And the kids without parents there started getting upset, wondering why their moms weren’t standing at the edge.”

“The parents can be hard,” she replied, which I translated as: “I’m sure as hell not taking on a bevy of Newton parents for a lousy summer job. In four weeks, I’ll be back in my dorm room, making out with my girlfriend/boyfriend, and carrying five classes while acting as president of my sorority. They don’t pay me enough to take down helicopter parents.” Can’t say that I blame her.

Wednesday went better. Maybe the parents had relaxed or maybe they were all reading Kafka on their smartphones.

Which brings me to today and the one dad who stationed himself two feet from the edge of the pool. And yet another mother who spent the ENTIRE lesson kneeled down by the kids, talking to her son, taking photos, offering instruction, and generally completely distracting everyone else’s children as they tried to learn to swim. Then, when the nineteen-year-old teacher attempted to get the kids’ attention – not an easy task with the Mama Show going on – this mom smiled and pointed, saying, “Listen to the teacher,” as if she weren’t the whole reason the kids weren’t looking at the teacher in the first place. I sort of wanted to ask her why the hell she was paying for lessons if she felt the urge to be by the edge of the pool the whole time. She might as well just teach him herself if she wasn’t going to do the sensible thing and spend the 35 minutes catching up on her New Yorker reading.

Later, we headed over to the kiddie pool, a foot deep of water about six feet long by six feet wide. I sat down in the shade while – I kid you not – seven parents stripped off their shoes and stood over their preschoolers in the water, instructing them how to play with the buckets and the rubber duckies.

Before I moved here, I worried that I might be an uptight helicopter parent. Nowadays, I feel like the most laid-back, ganja-smoking, relaxed mother on the planet. I love Newton.

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  • Reply Poker Chick August 10, 2012 at 1:01 am

    My kid does way better in any kind of lesson when I’m not there. And I enjoy playing words with friends while my smarter peers read Kafka 🙂

  • Reply Melanie August 10, 2012 at 1:54 am

    I just sat through 4 weeks of lessons for my 7 and 4 year old and parents are the worst! They ask all parents to wait off the pool deck the first two days (so the kids can get to know their teacher and the bulk of the freaking out is over)… and then we are allowed to go sit on the chaises and chairs around the pool deck (still a good 8-10 feet away from pools edge)… i kid you not one parent in particular this past two week session, not only stood in the “gutter” around the pool practically stepping on little kiddos fingers, but when she she would notice her older child in another group WAY across the pool do something, ANYTHING apparently she would scream “WHOHOO JEREMY, MAMA’S PROUD OF YOU…. YOU GO SON!” well congrats mom, the entire pool knows Jeremy can now blow bubbles… GRRR she didn’t just distract one group but an entire pool full of people!

  • Reply Lilian Nattel August 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Maybe someday they’ll figure out that the best part of swim lessons is hanging out with other parents.

  • Reply magpie August 10, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    what lilian said.

    although, what am i saying? the best part of swim lessons – for me – is that my husband is in charge!

  • Reply Lau August 11, 2012 at 1:05 am

    So funny 🙂 Thank you, Emily, for making me laugh after a long day with my two daughters (2 and 5). Loved this piece–love all of your writing! I look forward to receiving your pieces in my inbox and save them for the end of the day.

  • Reply Heather August 17, 2012 at 7:29 pm

    25 years ago I was that college student/swim instructor in Newton. I quickly learned who the pool was named for, who was the latest big donor to the facility, who sat on the board. I learned that to be wealthy meant not all the rules applied. I discovered that some households are responsible for financially supporting multiple other families (nanny, cook, cleaners, tutors, swim instructors, pool cleaners, landscapers and many other people I probably still don’t know exist.) I watched families. Some amazing- generous, kind, loving. I still think of some of those families when I struggle with my own. All at one little pool (then two pools) on the Newton/Needham line. I kinda miss the place despite all those parents!

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